Nine AMA volunteers navigated their way through four challenging but friendly days of orientation in late August at the Worcester community and its environs. The volunteers, all women this year, hailed from as far away as North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Central New York State and Michigan, and from as nearby as Worcester and Uxbridge, MA; they were heading to volunteer sites in Ireland and England as well as Chaparral, N.M. and Worcester itself.
Many activities filled the days of Abby, Laura, Afton, Flannery, Heather, Beth, Melissa , Emily and Becca, who bunked up the hill from the Sisters' house at 50 Old English Road, where they enjoyed the hospitality of the Assumptionists. On Friday, after taking some time in the morning to learn about the Assumption religious family of women and men special thanks to Father Oliver Blanchette, A.A. and Sr. Nuala Cotter, R.A. -- and to consider the art of keeping a journal under the guidance of Professor Kathleen Fisher, a member of the Theology Department at Assumption College and a good friend of the Sisters, they spent an afternoon experiencing cultural differences through a simulation game called Bafa-Bafa. In this game members of two very different "cultures" try to enter into the culture of the other, with interesting results! Afterward, with the assistance of Beth Fleming, co-director of AMA, Kristen Penkala, coordinator of Worcester's Assumption Center, and Father John Franck, A.A., the players reflected together on questions of "what's normal?" "what's right?" and "why do we do what we do?" Since it's a good bet that England, Ireland, New Mexico and even Massachusetts will challenge at least some cultural assumptions, this game offered a fun way to begin to think about it all. That evening, a meeting with past AMA volunteers who came to share both the "traditional" lasagna and their experience of living and working in new situations offered another take on life far away from the familiar.
Saturday saw the intrepid group working on the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) "a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions" under the direction of Dr. Neil Castronovo, the Dean of Counseling Services at Assumption College. The results of this questionnaire gave them a new way to understand their own responses to the world and even to themselves.
The group left the quiet world of the MBTI for the noisy, wacky world of Camp Harrington later that day, where they participated in a number of community-building challenges climbing trees with the aid of ropes, swinging across "peanut butter swamps," and a score of other activities that left them dirty, tired and happy with each other. Pizza was on the menu that night, followed by a thoughtful discussion prompted by the writings of Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, which, in the words of the L'Arche USA website, offers "family-like homes where people with and without disabilities share their lives together, give witness to the reality that persons with disabilities possess inherent qualities of welcome, wonderment, spirituality, and friendship." As it happens, two of this year's AMAs will be living and working in the l'Arche communities of Bognor-Regis, England and of Cork, Ireland. This line from the website sums up nicely how the discussion went that night, as people really took the time to consider their own needs and weaknesses as part of their desire to serve and to help: "Perhaps an extraordinary notion in our fast-paced and consumer-driven society, LArche believes that these qualities, expressed through vulnerability and simplicity, actually make those with a disability our real teachers about what is most important in life: to love and to be loved."
Sunday morning offered insights into "mission" as it's understood by the Church, thanks to Vinnie Sullivan-Jacques, a member of Assumption College's Campus Ministry Team and an ex-volunteer himself, as well as some quiet time for each volunteer to reflect on her commitment. The afternoon saw everyone preparing for the commissioning Mass celebrated by Fr. John, where the nine women made their promise of a year's service before their assembly of family and friends of AMA. A party followed at Emmanuel House, home of the Assumptionists on the college campus.
One last morning, with a great session on stress reduction through yoga led by Carol McGuiggan of the Assumption Student Development staff, a last lunch, and off they went, the blessings of the sisters ringing in their ears, heading for L'Arche, for Kids' Kabin in Newcastle, England, for Casa Maria Eugenia in Chaparral, NM, and for Assumption Center in the Main South section of Worcester, MA. As of this writing, all are in place and already at work. We're proud of them and invite all of our friends to keep them in mind and prayer during this year.